LPGA gets expanded live coverage in 2011

Golf Channel's Philip Parkin interviews Natalie Gulbis and Christina Kim during the 2009 Solheim Cup.

The LPGA is playing fewer domestic events this season, but will receive significantly more live coverage.

Golf Channel has scheduled at least 45 live LPGA telecasts, starting with the U.S. kickoff to the season March 18 at the R.R. Donnelly LPGA Founders Cup in Phoenix. That compares with 32 live telecasts in 2010.

The distinction is important to the LPGA because ratings for live 2010 telecasts were 22 percent higher than tape-delayed shows.

The LPGA State Farm Classic June 9-12 is the only event at which each round will be tape-delayed.

The live telecasts will include 12 hours over the first two days of the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first major of the year March 31-April 3. Golf Channel will air live three-hour shows from Kraft before and after the Shell Houston Open during the first two rounds. The final two rounds will bleed into prime time, running from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. 

While the television exposure has improved, the LPGA still is grappling with its schedule. The Founders Cup is the third event of the season for the LPGA, which will only play 14 domestic tournaments in 2011, compared with 16 last season.

“From a television standpoint, I wish we had more domestic events,” said Jack Graham, Golf Channel’s executive producer. “But I think Mike (LPGA commissioner Mike Whan) is right, they’re a global tour and they need to approach it that way.”

Tom Abbott will anchor most of Golf Channel’s domestic LPGA coverage, but Terry Gannon will parachute in for four events: Kraft, the Wegmans LPGA Championship, the Solheim Cup and the Safeway Classic. Graham is hopeful Judy Rankin will be able to work about 10 events as lead analyst; Rankin’s schedule has been curtailed because of her husband’s health issues. Jane Crafter will serve as analyst when Rankin isn’t available.

Phil Parkin will work in the tower, and the on-course reporters will be Jerry Foltz and either Crafter or Val Skinner. (Foltz will continue to anchor Nationwide Tour events when the LPGA is not playing.)

LPGA players have been open to innovations that might make the broadcasts more compelling. Graham said that Beth Hutter, the LPGA producer, plans to bring a different player into the booth for an extended period during each Friday telecast. He also anticipates that many players will either wear microphones or engage in walk-and-talk interviews.

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